Heard a story recently about a 3rd grader who was failing math.

Her state had signed up to the Common Core Standards (and testing) … and her school district had embraced the the Common Core curriculum.

Her math grades in 1st and 2nd grade were just fine.

When the Fs started coming home, her father – a college-educated engineer – jumped into the fray to tutor her.

The Fs kept coming.

The Fs kept coming even though her answers were right … her process of arriving at the right answer was wrong.

Before you say, “well, certainly she needs to do the problem the right way”, take this simple test.

**Question: Little Joey has a jar with 35 jelly beans. He gives away 17 of the jelly beans to his friends. How many jelly beans does Joey have left in the jar. Show each step of your calculation and label all numbers.**

**Do it ! Should only take a few seconds ….**

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My bet: you probably did something like the following:

The logic: the 7 in the number 17 is bigger than the 5 in the number 35, so borrow 10 from the 30 – making it 20 – and add the borrowed 10 to the 5, making it 15 … then subtract 7 from 15 to get 8 … and subtract 1 from 2 to get 1 in the 10s column …

Answer: **18**

And, since the question said to label everything, you did – even though it was an unnatural act.

**If you did the problem this way, you’d get an F following the Common Core curriculum … you’d get credit for the answer and the labeling, but a zero for the process.**

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**Here’s how you should have done it if you wanted a passing grade:**

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The Eureka Math method

The Common Core curriculum emphasizes abstraction (thinking conceptually), decomposition (breaking problems into smaller parts), and logical reasoning.

On balance, I agree with those objectives, but look what happens ….

The underlying logic of the above problem is grouping, counting and “natural” numbers – i.e. “easy” numbers that make it easier to do calculations in your head.

Joey gave away 17 jelly beans … how far away from 35 is 17?

Well, 17 is 3 away from 20 … the nearest easy number.

20 is 10 away from 30 … also an easy number.

30 is 5 away from 35 … the final destination.

Add 3 + 10 + 5 to get 18 … the numerical distance between 17 jelly beans given away and the 35 jelly beans originally in the jar.

Bingo … 100% … book the A.

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The Common Core approach may be a better way to do the problem than the old fashioned ‘borrow and subtract’ way that the nuns taught us.

Does seem like the nuns’ way had some enduring quality to it … a couple of centuries, I think.

And, if I’m not mistaken, it’s the way math is taught in the 26 countries whose students are whooping our butts in science and math.

So, why up-end the system?

The most constructive argument I can find is the above mentioned emphasis on abstraction (thinking conceptually), decomposition (breaking problems into smaller parts), and logical reasoning.

I’m all for that …

But, as a conspiracy theorist, I see a dark side…

Back to the story of the college-educated engineer who couldn’t help his daughter pass math because his methods were too “old school”.

Think about that for a second.

In a prior post, I recounted how liberal researchers had concluded that homework is basically discriminatory because intact families with educated parents are better positioned to help their children learn.

The conclusion: minimize homework to level the playing field.

And, for the homework that remains, neutralize the parents who are trying to help their kids by making their teachable skills obsolete.

Please tell me that this isn’t what’s going on …

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Note: At first, I didn’t believe the story of the 3rd grader. But, a couple of minutes googling “common core math frustrated parents” gives plenty of similar stories (all of which can’t be wrong, right?) … and some educators’ defense of the Common Core way of doing things. Worth browsing, especially for parents with kids in school.

Also, I chatted at length with a family friend who is a middle school math teacher. He confirmed the essence of the story and said that his kids were initially jolted by the new curriculum

His advice to them: “You gotta feed the bear … just suck it up and do it the way your teacher says to it.”

He also said: “I’m for higher standards, but do my “lower” students really need to learn exponents ? They need to know how to measure distances, do a budget and make change … not solve quadratic equations.”

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